HIS PUBLISHER, Jove Books (a division of the Berkeley Group), is hailing W.E.B. Griffin as "the Louis L'Amour of military fiction." Griffin has a long way to go to catch L'Amour, whose novel count is creeping towards the century mark. But Griffin's statistics are impressive. He has so far produced six original paperback novels in a series called "Brotherhood of War," based on characters serving in the U.S. Army. The print run for the six is already 3 million. The first of the books, The Lieutenants, set in World War II, appeared in September 1982. Griffin's latest, The Generals, published in February, has 700,000 copies flopping around out there in paperback land. You can more or less guess most of the titles of the intervening books.
All this is being produced by a man whose name really isn't Griffin at all. That is a pseudonym, though the initials W.E.B. are his real ones. (According to his publisher, he has written other books under his real name.) Griffin entered the Army at the end of World War II "to get the G.I. Bill, which I never used." He was stationed in Europe before going through the fighting in Korea, emerging as a master sergeant. At that point, after serving "eight years, nine months, six days," he left the Army. "I had discovered they shot at people in wars," he says.
In the following year -- "the most miserable of my life" -- he sold Karo syrup and Mazzola oil in Philadelphia before getting a civilian job with the Army at Fort Rucker, Alabama. Soon afterwards, he sold his first novel and was able to begin writing full time. He makes his home today in Hopewell, Alabama. Griffin fans will be happy to hear that the "Brotherhood" series is not over, even though the top ranks have been reached. "I am going back to fill in the blanks in the careers of some of the characters," he says. One of the new volumes will be called The Aviators.
"In the book before The Generals, called The Berets, I established a title that was not a rank and the new books will follow suit." In addition, this fall Jove will issue the first book in a new series by Griffin called "The Corps," based on the U.S. Marines. Can the Navy be far behind?
What has been Griffin's greatest problem with the "Brotherhood" books? "Some people take them too seriously. They tell me, 'I was there and it didn't happen that way.' I have to respond that the book is fiction, not history. It's just meant to be a story." What has given him his greatest happiness with the series? "On January 30, I did a signing of the new book at the Pentagon Bookstore. There were all these officers -- even generals -- lined up for me to sign their books. Remember, I was a sergeant. There was a big gap between enlisted men and offices. It blew my mind."
DR. BENSEN, who's done science fiction, gothics, westerns and mysteries and edited several collections of P.G. Wodehouse stories, has come up with a book of limericks based on the Old Testament. Called Biblical Limericks: Old Testament Stories Re-Versed, it has an introduction by Isaac Asimov, prints by Albrecht Durer and is published in a 96-page hardback by Ballantine-Epiphany. Here's a sampling:
The towns of Sodom and Gomorrah
Perished in Firey horrah
For re-viewing their odium
Mrs. Lot turned to sodium --
It could happen again here, tomorrah.
When Cain, in a fit of vexation,
Slew Abel, divine condemnation
was swift and gave pain;
If he tried it now, Cain
Would likely get three years' probation.
When Jonah once more saw the sun
And stood up on dry land, everyone
Asked "How's travel by whale?"
He replied, looking pale,
"Cabin class would be rather more
The Bottom Line
THE FINAL computation of last year's hardback book sales by the industry bible Publishers Weekly shows that in commercial terms 1985 was a sizzler for fiction. Three novels -- The Mammoth Hunters, by Jean Auel (Crown), Texas, by James A. Michener (Random House) and Lake Wobegon Days, by Garrison Keillor (Viking) -- all sold over 1 million copies. Only twice before have hardback novels sold 1 million -- Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach in 1970 and J.R.R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion, in 1977. Normally, nonfiction far outsells fiction in hardback, but only one nonfiction beat The Mammoth Hunters' total of 1,471,535 copies in 1985. That was Iacocca: An Autobiography, by Lee Iacocca and William Novak (Bantam). Published in November 1984, Iacocca sold 1,510,000 copies during 1985. Sales of The Mammoth Hunters are even more extraordinary when you consider the book was not officially published until December 6, 1985 (though it was in bookstores several weeks before).
SPEAKING OF Publisher's Weekly there was a fascinating item in a recent issue. An article by Joann Davis and William Godstein focuses on 1985 books that were promoted before publication as potential big best sellers but that didn't make it. One such disappointment was Esquire Ultimate Fitness by the editors of Esquire magazine. Lori Marsh, an official of the publisher, Addison-Wesley, laid the book's poor showing to the fact that "a lot of the market for exercise books has gone to video tape." It's the first time I've seen video tape blamed for a book failure. Exercise cassettes have been one of the most successful forms of video tape and Marsh's explanation is perfectly logical. But where will video tape strike next?